For the second consecutive year, Fiorentina have been drawn into the Conference League playoff round. The task is simple: beat Rapid Wien over two legs (no away goals) and get drawn into the group stage or lose and drop out of European competition for the remainder of the season. You may be asking yourself, “Who or what is a Wien, and why is it going so fast?” We’ve got answers to that question and many more.
So the name? That’s really their name?
Sportklub Rapid Wien, yep. In English, you’ll frequently see it as Rapid Vienna, but I feel like referring to them in their own language feels a little more respectful, so I’ll be doing that, but I don’t think anyone will be too put out if you go the other way. The Rapid part came when they were renamed in honor of German side Rapide Berlin (currently known as SV Nord Wedding 1893) back in 1899.
If you’d prefer, you can call them die Grün-Weißen (the Green-Whites) for their shirt colors—although their away strip is red, after their pre-1899 colors—or Hütteldorfer, after Hütteldorf, the western Vienna neighborhood in which the club is situated. Apparently it’s notable for a convenient train stop that connects it to the rest of the city, so travel shouldn’t be too difficult, at least.
1899, eh? So this is a pretty old club?
Yeah, they’re really old. They were founded in 1897 as Erster Wiener Arbeiter-Fußball-Club, making them older than any active clubs in Italy aside from Torino and Genoa.
Have they won anything in those 125 years?
You could say that. Rapid Wien is Austria’s most successful domestic club, having won the league a paltry 32 times. They’ve also won the Austrian Cup 14 times and the Austrian Supercup 3 times. The bad part (for them) is that their last trophy was the league in 2008. They’ve been friskier of late, finishing a distant 2nd twice in a row—the Austrian Bundesliga was suspended for the past couple years, so those were the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 seasons—but clearly haven’t been able to keep up with the Red Bull machine, which has pumped relatively massive amounts of cash into RB Salzburg.
Okay, but what about in Europe? Anything there?
There is indeed something there. Rapid Wien hoisted the Mitropa Cup in 1930 and 1951, so they’ve got a bit of experience against Italian opposition in Europe, albeit in the deep, deep past. They were also runners up in the Cup Winner’s Cup (a precursor to the Conference League) in 1985 and 1996.
Yeah, I meant more recently.
Okay, fine. They made a decent run in Champions League qualifying in 2021-2022 before Sparta Prague knocked them down to the Europa League, where they finished 3rd in their group, losing twice to West Ham (boo hiss) and splitting their matches with Dinamo Zagreb. That was enough to get them to the Conference League playoff, where they fell to Vitesse.
The year before, Gent beat them in the third round of Champions League qualifying, leaving them in the Europa group stages again. They very nearly progressed, but were held to a 1-1 draw against Molde on the final day and wound up in 3rd place and out of the tournament entirely. So yeah, they’ve got plenty of recent experience working at this level of various continental competitions. UEFA’s got them at 99th in club coefficient. They’ll be ready.
So they’ve got experience. Are they actually good?
They’ve played 7 competitive matches this year, starting off with a 0-7 thrashing of Donaufeld in the Cup. They went to LASK for the league opener and took a point in a 1-1, then hammered Altach 4-1. They also knocked out Debrecen (remember them from the Champions League glory days?), playing a goalless draw at home and then opening it up for a 0-5 win in Hungary to reach this stage. They lost at Hartberg last week but bounced back with a 0-5 win at newly-promoted Blau Weiss Linz.
Basically, they’re great when they’re ahead and can sit back and hit on the counter but not as good at playing from behind, as far as I can tell.
None of those names mean anything to me. Are they actually good?
I honestly don’t know. Maybe?
Really helpful. Do they have anyone I’ve ever heard of?
Their captain and striker is the wonderfully-named Guido Burgstaller, who’s got 25 appearances for Austria. Left winger Marco Grüll has a few caps too. Right winger Nicolas Kühn came through the Bayern Munich youth system. They’ve got half a dozen current youth internationals. That’s about it, honestly.
So not really anyone I know. Any famous alumni, at least?
You’re in luck. They’ve had a number of pretty well known players come through. The most notable recent ex is Newcastle’s Joelinton, who spent 2016-2018 there on loan from Hoffenheim. The great Antonín Panenka (yes, the chipped penalty guy) spent 4 years with them in the 1980s. For the American crowd, the Grün-Weißen were former USMNT striker Terrence Boyd’s first senior side in Europe.
How do they play?
It’s a pretty basic 4-2-3-1. They play route one stuff, looking for balls behind the fullbacks for the wingers to chase or to Burgstaller to knock down. Failing that, they’ll get the ball down the wing, often using the fullbacks to overlap, and hit crosses in. Both wingers are pretty good at attacking the back post and the 10 gets into the box too. Defensively, they’ll defend deep in 2 banks of 4 and focus on transitions rather than possession.
If this sounds like a basic approach, well, maybe it is. The tricky part is that it’s also an approach that’s perfectly suited to tournament soccer. Rapid are well-organized and know themselves. They aren’t going to do anything fancy. They’re just going to come out and execute their plan. And hey, it worked fine for RFS and Lech Poznan last year. It’s not like Fiorentina’s some juggernaut that can just brush this sort of team aside without thinking.
Sounds like it’s going to be tense and gritty. How about a fun fact or two?
Rapid Wien have won a bunch of domestic trophies, but they’ve also won some domestic German ones. Yep, they were in the bigger Bundesliga for awhile in the 1940s.
Okay, that’s actually not fun at all. I said fun, dammit.
That’s fair. Their manager Zoran Barišić is in his third stint at the helm, having spent a couple months as interim boss in 2011 and then a longer period from 2013 to 2016 as the official boss. He was also the club’s sporting director directly before taking this position, which is like if Daniele Pradè decided to hang up those sharp suits and start working the touchline instead.
That’s a little fun. How about a lot of fun?
Try this on for size. The stadium is the Allianz Stadion, opened in 2016. Before that, though, it was the Gerhard-Hanappi-Stadion, named after Gerhard Hanappi and built in 1977. Who was Gerhard Hanappi, you ask? Well, he was a Rapid Wien superstar from 1950 to 1965 who helped them win the league 7 times and helped Austria to 3rd place in the 1958 World Cup, so basically a club legend. After he quit playing, he got an architecture degree, came back, and designed the goddamn stadium himself.
Bonus factoid: the fans have been doing a thing since at least 1913 called the Rapid-Viertelstunde (the Rapid Quarter-hour for us English speakers). They start clapping and chanting at the 75 minute mark of the game to let the players know it’s crunch time. Supposedly it’s inspired a bunch of late comebacks, so watch out for that.
Oh yeah, the fans. What are they like?
Rapid Wien is traditionally the working class club in Vienna (Austria Wien is the middle class opposition). Ultras Rapid is the firm that will handle most of the tifos and provide the bulk of the traveling support. They’ll probably come hang out in the Piazza della Republica and sing, but they don’t have a reputation for violence outside of their scraps with hated local rivals Austria Wien. Speaking of which, Austria Wien also wear purple, so expect a little extra bite from Rapid Wien fan’s as a result.
Oh, another fun fact: Rapid has a gemellaggio with Venezia, apparently based off the fact that they both wear green shirts. Nürnberg, Dinamo Zagreb, Ferencváros, and Panathinaikos are also Green Brothers, so don’t be shocked if you see a Venezia shirt or two mixed into the crowd.
10/08/2023, Rapid Wien - Debrecen , "Killers in our movement are killing our movement" (Rapid Wien are friends with Panathinaikos) pic.twitter.com/Tbdd2VALOc— (@thecasualultra) August 11, 2023
So there’s a tenuous Italian connection. Anything more concrete?
You betcha. Back in their heyday, Rapid Wien played a bunch of Italian teams, and even faced off against Inter in 2018 in the Europa League. They haven’t done to well against Serie A opposition, posting a W7 D7 L19 record with a -31 goal difference.
They ever play Fiorentina?
I thought you’d never ask. They’ve met 3 times, with the Viola winning all of them. The first was in the second round of the 1961-1962 Cup Winner’s Cup, when they lost 3-1 at the Stadio Artemio Franchi; Aurelio Milani, Kurt Hamrin, and Torbjörn Jonsson did the damage, with Walter Seitl pulling back a late consolation.
In the return leg, it was even more lopsided: Milani netted a hat trick with Hamrin, Jonsson, Lucio Dell’Angelo also on the scoresheet in a 2-6 romp, with Max Schmidt netting a late brace.
In the 1965 Mitropa Cup semifinal, it was equally one-sided as a flurry in the final 6 minutes of the first half saw Mario Bertini bag a brace and Hamrin, as ever, chip in as well. The good vibes didn’t carry through to the final, though, as the Viola fell to Vasa.
Dang. What a history.
Yep. Should be a lot of fun.